Event: June 1963; Original post: July 2009
Updated: 10 August 2012
Self portrait of Nicholas N. Kovalenko, circa 1963
In June 1963, a week or two before finishing graduate school at the University of Utah and just before being released from a two-year extra-curricular Mormon Church University of Utah stake mission, I had a mystical experience while talking with my dad. I had come to visit him at his home in Southern California to help him write his autobiography, as well as consider employment offers from companies in the area so that my family and I could live nearby and continue this project. As he and I talked, Dad expressed anxiety for not having done enough to put his genealogy work in order, which is THE basic preoccupation of Mormon society. Dad had joined the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City in 1929, just before the historic stock market crash, and before marrying my Mormon mother in Phoenix in 1932.
It was not the first time over the years that Dad had expressed such concern. He had worried often that in searching for his Ukraine relatives in the middle 1930s, he may have inadvertently and naively put them at risk, having lost contact with them when he left the country in 1920 at the end of the Russian Revolution-civil war.
As he was again expressing these concerns, my attention was interrupted by a strong Presence that came into my mind with a clear message for Dad, which I felt was so because it could not make itself known to him directly. "Do not be concerned about your relatives", the Presence whispered, "All is in order and will be revealed in due time. For now, however, there are two things NOT in order that you must attend to before moving on: 1) Strengthen your relationship with your sons; 2) Strengthen your spiritual commitment. You will need this strength and understanding to accomplish your next work, which will be from the other side, helping your sons on this side."
Only after the message was received and understood AND I had agreed to relay it to Dad, did the Presence leave me. Dad, in the meantime, had become quiet and was now watching me closely. When I finally began to speak, I was excited and tried to deliver what I'd just understood all at once. But, the words fell all over themselves and I became effectively incoherent.
Dad then spoke to me gently, "Son, I see something important has happened to you. Relax and write down what you need to say and send it to me when you can."
It took a month to write what I had promised and I feared that its dogmatic tone would be offending. I tried to soften the tone, but something in me would not allow it. It took another month for Dad to reply, but only to acknowledge receipt of what he had asked for. I never knew what he thought or felt about what I had written. He died the following May, the day before his 61st birthday and two weeks before I was to receive my doctoral diploma.
At the time of his death I was in a deep depression, which I had been in since January 1964. During late April and early May, the last month of his life, he and I went on a sentimental journey to Arizona, where I had grown up. This was the first time he and I had ever been on such a trip together. I had nothing to offer him by way of spiritual strength and support as I had felt was my duty before. All I needed from him was that he be himself and just be my dad. He didn't have to be a hero or wise or anything special. Our conversations were comforting and our relationship re-righted itself--I was no longer his parent. He became the father again and that's all I needed.
A week or so after we returned from our journey and the night before I learned of his passing, I snapped out of the depression. When told of his death the next day I felt that my own spiritual work had just begun!
I learned about his true responses to my letter only after I read his markings on it, which my mother found among his papers after his death and sent to me. His markings were in both pen and pencil, so it was obvious he had read it several times. Yes, he had been offended by its tone--he'd written the words "pontifical", "dogmatic" in the margins at specific places--but he had understood and accepted the message! Above my typed words "Have faith that your sons will respond to your call", which he had energetically underlined and boxed in, he had written: "The CRUX of this letter".
Note: in the summer of 1995, after 75 years of not knowing, my brother Virgil found all of Dad's closest relatives in his home town of Melitopol, Ukraine. Four generations! Including his oldest niece, Yevgenia, then aged 93 and my namesake. They'd always wondered what had happened to Uncle Kolya and were amazed to learn about his huge American family. The next year, 1996, I spent 3 weeks with the two oldest (of an original 3) nieces who were still living and their descendants. In 2007 I again traveled to Ukraine, to attend the university graduation in Kharkov of one of those young descendants whom our family had sponsored. During that time I had the opportunity to sing an old Slavonic chant "S nami Bog" (God is with us) in three Melitopol churches, one a Protestant denomination of the Campbellite tradition and the other two Orthodox.